I love weird guns, especially when they are cheap and functional. As such, I knew I needed a Heritage Arms Rancher Carbine as soon as I laid my eyes on it. A Rough Rider 22LR revolver turned into a rifle at a very affordable price point. How could I not want such a silly little gun? Especially with a retail price of only 250 bucks. I purchased the Rancher Carbine with a small understanding of why revolving rifles kind of suck, but let’s dig into why this is such an unusual option and why revolving rifles seem to be so rare.
The Problems With A Revolving Rifle
First, revolving rifles were only ever created because people wanted repeating firearms, but metal cartridges didn’t exist just yet. Colt designed a revolving rifle that offered five to six shots in a world where most rifles offered one muzzleloading shot. Revolving rifles largely went the way of the dodo when lever actions and metallic cartridges became a thing.
Back then, the big problem was chain fires causing all five or six rounds to fire at the same time due to paper cartridges and loose black powder. This ended up hurting quite a few soldiers during the civil war and the Indian War.
These days the big problem with guns like the Rancher Carbine is the gap between the forcing cone and cylinder. That area blasts out burning gas and delivers quite the sting to the forearm if you fire the Rancher in a traditional rifle firing position.
Heritage advises you shoot the Rancher with both arms behind the cylinder in a goofy, but admittedly not a very bad position. I did try to shoot the Rancher with a traditional grip, and I will advise even 22LR delivers a sharp sting and burn.
Breaking Down the Heritage Arms Rancher Carbine
The Rancher Carbine is just the classic Rough Rider with a stock and 16.125-inch barrel. It’s a 22LR from the factory, but you can toss in a 22 WMR cylinder for a modest price, and you get a fair bit more oomph. This is a single-action-only firearm with the same silly Rough Rider safety we all know and loathe. It’s avoidable but kills the look of the gun as far as I’m concerned.
Heritage Arms includes a cute little leather sling with the gun, and it comes equipped with sling swivels. The sights are a buckhorn design with a decent sight radius. The firearm is 32 inches long overall and weighs only 4.12 pounds. This makes it one of the lightest repeating 22LR rifles on the market.
The rear stock is a fine-looking wood that gives the gun a very classic look. I adore looking at this gun and find it to be a whole other kind of cool. The trigger guard has a little spur you’ve likely noticed, and that spur helps you use an odd but effective two-handed rear grip.
Ergonomics of the Revolving Rifle
Let’s talk about that weird two-handed grip and shoulder method. The only reason it works is that the gun weighs so little. It’s super well balanced and doesn’t feel front-heavy or difficult to hold or shoot with both hands behind the cylinder. It feels a little crowded, but that extra spur does wonders for giving you a little room to hold onto the gun.
The length of pull is short and sweet, right around 12 inches and some change. It’s perfectly sized for younger shooters and gorillas like myself. My son has no problems handling the little guy and putting lead on steel. Reaching the hammer is easy and honestly, putting the safety on and taking it off is easy from a shooting stance.
You get a nice cheek rest, and you won’t have issues getting behind the sights and lining your shots up with the Heritage Rancher Carbine. Sadly the design doesn’t make it easy to do any kind of supported shooting. Your only option seems to be to rest and barrel on something, and that doesn’t play well with accuracy.
At the Range
As you’d imagine, the single-action trigger is quite crisp and very light. It certainly helps with accuracy. The buckhorn sights are new to me, but I’ve learned that for shots on larger targets, you can get behind the sights and take fast snapshots with the large open portion of the sight. For more precision, you sink into the sights and use the tip of the front sight.
It works, but the Rancher Carbine isn’t inherently super accurate. It’s minute of squirrel accurate at 25 yards. At 50 yards, I can hit a 4-inch gong in a kneeling position. However, I can’t produce super tight groups worth measuring with an MOA app. I’m talking 1.5 to 2-inch groups at 50 yards. The Rancher Carbine offers you absolutely zero options for adding optics or swapping sights, so you get what you get.
As you’d imagine, the Rancher Carbine has almost negative recoil. It bucks and barks like a big dog but handles like a kitten. The gun is super easy to handle and predictably kid-friendly. Just make sure they keep their arms to the rear. As a single-action revolver, reliability isn’t an issue either. It’s not going to jam or fail to extract. As long that rimfire primer ignites, the gun will reliably go bang.
One issue outside of the muzzle blasts scraping you if you handle it incorrectly is that a lot of gas and unburnt powder comes flying back. At least once per cylinder, the gun gives you a kiss and stings you as burn throws back. This is the type of gun that makes eye pro an absolute must-have.
It’s also the loudest 22LR rifle I’ve ever handled. Maybe because of that cylinder blaster, but it surprised me the first time I lit a round off.
So What’s the Point
The Rancher Carbine seems like a silly rifle. It’s a novelty that’s nowhere near as handy as Ruger 10/22, Marlin Model 60, or other similar rifles. So what’s the point? Well, it’s a ton of fun! It’s just a fun gun that’s just fun to shoot. It’s delightfully weird, and the low price point of the rifle combined with the low price point of the ammo makes it a blast to shoot.
If you just want a fun gun, then the Heritage Arms Rancher Carbine is for you. If you don’t mind the downfalls and just want a fun gun that’s a little different, then here you go! If you want something a little more practical, stick with the Ruger 10/22.